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Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 19:04 GMT
Byers 'to force Carling sale'
Crates of Stella Artois stacked in a supermarket
Stella Artois is the UK's top-selling premium lager
Trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers could force Belgian brewing giant Interbrew to sell the UK's best-selling lager brand Carling, following its acquisition of the Whitbread and Bass breweries.

A Competition Commission report into the 2.3bn Bass deal is expected to land on Byers' desk this week, although its findings will not be made public until early next year.

According to drinks industry sources, the report will recommend the sale of Carling to reduce Interbrew's share of the UK beer market, which stands at 32%.

Interbrew, which produces the UK's best-selling premium lager Stella Artois, was expected to sell Bass's Tennents brewery, which produces Scotland's best-selling lager, to satisfy the Commission.

Potential job losses

Interbrew is widely expected to close three of the 10 Bass and Whitbread breweries, potentially resulting in thousands of job losses. The company has refused to comment on likely closures.

According to a report in The Observer newspaper Carlsberg-Tetley, which was beaten to the Bass deal by Interbrew, has already made an approach for Carling. It is said to value the brand at 750m.

Another likely contender is South African Breweries (SAB), which has been attempting to gain a foothold in the UK market for some time and is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

However, last week SAB itself was rumoured to be the subject of a take-over bid by Interbrew, which sent its share price soaring.

Scottish and Newcastle, Britain's biggest brewer, which brews Foster's lager in the UK and recently bought the French Kronenbourg brand, already has around 30% of the UK market, effectively ruling out a large-scale purchase such as Carling.

It is expected to seek further foreign acquisitions and was this week reported to be in talks with the German Beck's brewery, with a view to extending its UK distribution deal to the rest of Europe.

The move is being seen as a prelude to S & N's purchase of Beck's, which has bucked the UK drinks trade trend in the past year by increasing take-home sales by 49%.

Stock market debut

Shares in Interbrew made immediate gains on Friday after it debuted on the stock market.

In early trading on the pan-European Euronext exchange, Interbrew shares rose 1.39 euros to 34.39 euros, valuing the firm at 14.43bn euros ($12.63bn).

"It is a very good debut, great volume and nicely above the issue price," Frank Dumont, a trader at DeMaertelaere investment house said.

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See also:

08 Nov 00 | Business
Interbrew to go public
19 Oct 00 | Business
Whitbread in pubs shake-up
14 Jun 00 | Business
Bass sells brewing ops
25 May 00 | Business
Beer sector faces shake-up
15 May 00 | Business
Whitbread and Bass to quit brewing
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